Operation Mayhem

Posted: August 21, 2014 in Books, War on Terror


Operation Mayhem is the account of an elite forces mission: in fact, one of the most highly decorated in modern military history.

Airlifted deep into the heart of the African jungle in the midst of a civil war, twenty-six operators from the British unit X Platoon were sent into combat against two thousand rebels – being used as bait to lure the enemy into a decisive battle.  High on blood-lust and drugs, the rebels were notorious for their savagery. Equipped with captured armour, heavy machine-guns and grenade-launchers, they vastly outgunned the men of X Platoon – who were kitted out with pitiful supplies of ammunition and rifles, plus no body armour, grenades or heavy weaponry.

Intended to last just days, the mission mutated into a desperate siege, as the men of X Platoon – more formally known as the Pathfinders – faced what the rebels dubbed ‘Operation Kill British’ (not the best name ever, but certainly to the point). Half-starved, surviving on giant African snails, fungi and other bush tucker, this handful of men were forced to make their stand alone. They fought using grenades made from old food-tins and punji stakes – as the locals joined forces with them to defend against the onslaught.

Operation Mayhem is engaging from the very start, dropping you right into some great action scenes, and allowing you to get a feel for the significant members of the platoon very quickly.  In fact, the strong personalities of all those involved really help you to identify with the Pathfinders, as they feel like people you know, and not just faceless troops.  Heaney and Lewis are very accomplished writers, and the skydiving sequence near the beginning of the book is scarily tense, and helps you get into the mind-set of the men who would sign up to become Pathfinders.

As the battle approaches, the tension is so high it’s a real struggle to put the book down.  The locals are all very lively and likeable, helping you to really empathise with them.

When the action finally kicks off, it is incredible.  The  description writing setting the scene blends very well with Heaney and Lewis’ anecdotal style, resulting in a feel that’s almost cinematic.  During a particularly pitched battle, Heaney’s attempts to bring a mortar into the correct position and the struggles he faces doing so are a particular highlight.  I had no idea what would be happening next to the Pathfinders, and this kept me riveted and desperate to read on.

Operation Mayhem is a great, action-packed, yet emotional account of a small part of a very big war.  I highly recommend it.


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